Egyptian Intelligence Officials Meet With Hamas Leaders in Gaza in a 'Last Effort Before Escalation'

Talks described as preparations for Egyptian intelligence chief's upcoming visit to Gaza and the West Bank as officials in Jerusalem and Gaza trade combative threats

Palestinian and Egyptian flags wave over two photos of Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi hanging on the main gate of the Rafah crossing border with Egypt, in the Southern Gaza Strip,Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017.
AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra

 A delegation of senior Egyptian intelligence officials arrived in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday for a series of meetings with Hamas leaders to discuss efforts to clinch deals for Palestinian reconciliation and a long-term understanding with Israel. Sources in Gaza told Haaretz that the talks are part of final efforts to head off an escalation in the region following months of clashes between Gazans and Israeli forces along the border.

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According to sources in Gaza, the delegation headed by Maj. Gen. Ahmed Abdel Khalek – the intelligence officer tasked with Palestinian issues – met with Hamas Politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh and with Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza. 

A source told Haaretz that Tuesday's meetings constituted preparations for the planned visit by Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to Gaza on Thursday. Kamel is also expected to visit Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

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A senior official in Abbas' office confirmed the planned meeting to Haaretz, adding that Abbas will be presented Hamas' position on Palestinian reconciliation, with an emphasis on the Palestinian government returning to Gaza. According to reports in Arabic-language media, Kamel will also visit Tel Aviv and Amman as part of his efforts.

In both Gaza and Ramallah, much importance is being placed on the talks planned for this week, which will provide a clearer picture regarding the continuation of talks on reconciliation and Israel-Hamas tensions. Sources in Gaza said the talks will be aimed at preventing another round of fighting in the coastal enclave.

A Hamas source told Haaretz that Hamas and Israel are not interested in a confrontation despite combative statements from both sides, and that there is therefore an attempt to advance a plan to provide aid to Gaza without an official announcement. This would be reflected in a flow of money and goods from Israel and Egypt into Gaza to promote projects that will provide jobs in exchange for a gradual de-escalation of tensions without an explicit announcement by Hamas and without formally severing the Palestinian Authority from this plan.

Ramallah continues to insist on controlling the Gaza Strip as a precondition for promoting such projects. A senior official in the PLO's Executive Committee told Haaretz that the meetings with Egypt's intelligence chief will be the basis for decisions that are to be implemented toward the end of the year. "This situation will not continue forever, and decisions will soon be made in this matter," the official said.

Last week the newspaper Al-Araby al-Jadeed, which is published in London, said tKamel is expected to inform Abbas that if the Palestinian Authority does not cooperate, Cairo will halt its mediation efforts and instead work unilaterally with Hamas on the situation in Gaza.

Last week, fuel paid for by the Gulf state of Qatar was shipped into the Gaza Strip to boost the energy supplies to residents of the Strip. Following violent clashes with Israeli forces on the border, in which seven Palestinians were killed, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered a halt to the shipment of fuel into the enclave.